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Restaurant Review

Eclectic dishes are hit and miss at Beast & Butterflies

Never mind the not-so-good dishes at Beast & Butterflies. There are enough good ones to return to

If you have not been to Beast & Butterflies at the new M Social boutique hotel, you will probably think it's no different from other all-day-dining eateries in hotels.

A look at its menu may not dispel that notion either. Okay, there's no Hainanese chicken rice or char kway teow. But there is laksa and a burger.

But look closer and you will find that it is quite a different, er, beast altogether.

For starters, it does not open all day.

There is also a distinct effort to brand the restaurant separately from the hotel, although both are designed by Philippe Starck. This includes having the two physically detached. You have to walk out of the hotel and across a non-airconditioned, albeit short, passageway to get to the restaurant.

The vibe and feel are totally different too.

  • BEAST & BUTTERFLIES

  • 90 Robertson Quay, tel: 6206-1888

    open: 6 to 10.30am, 11.30am to 2.30pm, 5 to 10.30pm daily

    Food: 4/5 stars

    Service: 3/5 stars

    Ambience: 4/5 stars

    Price: Budget from $50 a person, without drinks

The hotel lobby is tiny and lit in monochromatic hot pink. The restaurant, however, is big and boasts varied elements that provide diners a different experience as they move from one area to the next.

In the main dining area, clusters of lava lamps brighten up a section furnished with wooden furniture and sofas upholstered in retro prints.

Facing that is a row of tables lined against the wall, on which is an installation of 40 tablets showing videos of swirling wisps of smoke.

Walk further in and you come to a billiard table, beyond which is a row of rectangular tables with lit tops that belong more to a club than a restaurant.

And finally you reach the 13m-long bar with a countertop made up of a series of TV screens showing more swirling smoke. Sitting at the bar not only allows you to watch the mixologist at work, but also the chefs in the open kitchen facing it.

Tying all that up is a row of chandeliers, all different and circled by video projections on the ceiling.

Yet despite the many design elements, the look is not mish-mash or overdone. The place somehow gels - and in a way that feels exciting and surprising, with iconic objects from the past and present.

Perhaps it speaks better to me, having grown up in a time when lava lamps were a novelty, and I now keep both a book and an iPad beside my bed for night-time reading.

The food by chef Bryce Li is just as mashed up, or "borderless" as the restaurant calls it.

There is a very Cantonese Collagen Soup ($24) comprising a thick broth of fish cartilage and pork bone, with a piece of fish maw and a mushroom ravioli. It's decent, but also pricey for a tiny bowl - more a cup, really - barely enough for one person.

I'd suggest you save the money and order the Simply Scallop ($24), a more generous starter of Hokkaido scallop carpaccio with a yuzu and ginger marinade. Bits of crispy deep-fried garlic and a touch of shallot oil give it a Cantonese flavour that works marvellously.

It reminds me of the Cantonese raw fish dish that goes with congee. I can even see how it can be incorporated into a Chinese New Year savoury lo-hei, like a Shunde yusheng.

Lobster Porridge ($28) is another good-value dish which comes with half a lobster, a few slices of abalone and shreds of dried scallop.

The stock for the Teochew-style porridge is not as good as some versions I've tasted at other eateries, but if this is your first taste of the dish, you will find it pretty impressive.

Chicken & Chorizo ($26) is not a dish I would normally order because I do not like chicken breast, which I find bland and dry.

What attracts me to this dish is the description that the chicken is cooked sous-vide, a method of cooking at low temperature in a water bath that turns the meat succulent and flavourful.

And it does not disappoint. The chicken, which is also grilled to brown the exterior, is delicious, especially with scallion oil drizzled over it.

The chorizo is found in two croquettes that come with the meat. But these are just okay and the chicken is in no danger of being overshadowed.

My favourite dish is the Ham Hock ($28 for half, $38 for whole), a German-style deep-fried pork knuckle that boasts one of the crispiest skins I have eaten.

It comes with a nam jim sauce, which is a Thai chilli dipping sauce that is spicy, sour, salty and sweet. Here, it is a bit too salty, so go easy with it.

I also love the Asian sauerkraut that comes on the side. It is pickled cabbage, but less sharp than the German version and with more complex flavours of oils and sauces from an Asian kitchen.

As for the Mee Tai Mak Laksa ($16), which the server recommends enthusiastically, I am in two minds about it.

It does not come with cockles, which immediately loses points with me. Instead, it comes with cherry stone clams that are plump and sweet, so that wins back some points.

The taupok is deep fried till crispy, which is nice. But that also means it does not get soaked with laksa gravy, which is bad.

Mee tai mak, which are short and plump rice noodles, do not pick up the gravy either, so that's another mark down.

Overall, I'd say it is a decent laksa, but it won't win any hawker awards.

The twist in the dessert, Yam Brulee ($10), is a cleverer one. As its name suggests, it's creme brulee with yam. It tastes like orh nee (Teochew yam paste) topped with caramelised sugar, a mix of East and West that is brilliant.

But the Sawadee ($12) shows little creativity. It's the Thai staple dessert of mango sticky rice - and not a very good one. The rice is bland and the mango sour.

So if beasts connote something bad and butterflies something lovely, you find both here.

I'm charmed enough by the butterflies to go back though. Beasts can always be slayed.

• Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke

• The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 26, 2016, with the headline 'Beauty and the beast'. Print Edition | Subscribe